North American English

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North American English
Region Northern America (United States, Canada)
Early forms
Dialects American English, Canadian English and their subdivisions
Latin (English alphabet)
Unified English Braille [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog nort3314
IETF en-021

North American English (NAmE, NAE) is the most generalized variety of the English language as spoken in the United States and Canada. [2] Because of their related histories and cultures, [3] plus the similarities between the pronunciations (accents), vocabulary, and grammar of American English and Canadian English, the two spoken varieties are often grouped together under a single category. [4] [5] Canadians are generally tolerant of both British and American spellings, with British spellings of certain words (e.g., colour) being favored in more formal settings and in Canadian print media; for some other words the American spelling prevails over the British (e.g., tire rather than tyre). [6]


The United Empire Loyalists who fled the American Revolution (1775–1783) have had a large influence on Canadian English from its early roots. [7] Some terms in North American English are used almost exclusively in Canada and the United States (for example, the terms diaper and gasoline are widely used instead of nappy and petrol ). Although many English speakers from outside North America regard those terms as distinct Americanisms, they are just as common in Canada, mainly due to the effects of heavy cross-border trade and cultural penetration by the American mass media. [8] [ better source needed ]The list of divergent words becomes longer if considering regional Canadian dialects, especially as spoken in the Atlantic provinces and parts of Vancouver Island where significant pockets of British culture still remain.

There are a considerable number of different accents within the regions of both the United States and Canada. English in North America originally derived from the accents prevalent in different English, Scottish and Irish regions of the British Isles. These were developed, built upon, and blended together as new waves of immigration, and migration across the North American continent, developed new accents and dialects in new areas, and as these ways of speaking merged and assimilated with the English-speaking population.


American English

Ethnic American English

Regional American English

Canadian English

Table of accents

Below, thirteen major North American English accents are defined by particular characteristics:

Accent nameMost populous urban centerStrong /aʊ/ frontingStrong /oʊ/ frontingStrong /u/ frontingStrong
/ɑr/ fronting
Cot–caught merger Pin–pen merger /æ/ raising system Other defining criteria [10]
African-American VariableNoNoNoMixedYes [11] pre-nasal Southern drawl / African-American Vowel Shift / Variable non-rhoticity
Atlantic Canadian HalifaxVariableNoYesYesYesNovarious Canadian raising
General American NoNoNoNoMixedNopre-nasal
Inland Northern U.S. ChicagoNoNoNoYesNoNogeneral Northern Cities Vowel Shift
Mid-Atlantic U.S. PhiladelphiaYesYesYesNoNoNosplit
Midland U.S. IndianapolisYesYesYesNoMixedMixedpre-nasal
New York City New York CityYesNoNo [12] NoNoNosplitVariable non-rhoticity
North-Central (Upper Midwestern) U.S. MinneapolisNoNoNoYesYesNopre-nasal & pre-velar
Northern New England BostonNoNoNoYesYesNopre-nasal
Southern U.S. San AntonioYesYesYesNoMixedYespre-nasalSouthern drawl / Southern Vowel Shift
Standard Canadian TorontoNoNoYesNoYesNopre-nasal & pre-velarCanadian raising / Canadian Vowel Shift
Western U.S. Los AngelesNoNoYesNoYesNopre-nasal
Western Pennsylvania PittsburghYesYesYesNoYesMixedpre-nasal/aʊ/ glide weakening


A majority of North American English (for example, in contrast to British English) includes phonological features that concern consonants, such as rhoticity (full pronunciation of all /r/ sounds), conditioned T-glottalization (with satin pronounced [ˈsæʔn̩], not [ˈsætn̩]), T- and D-flapping (with metal and medal pronounced the same, as [ˈmɛɾɫ̩]), L-velarization (with filling pronounced [ˈfɪɫɪŋ], not [ˈfɪlɪŋ]), as well as features that concern vowel sounds, such as various vowel mergers before /r/ (so that, Mary, marry, and merry are all commonly pronounced the same), raising of pre-voiceless /aɪ/ (with price and bright using a higher vowel sound than prize and bride), the weak vowel merger (with affected and effected often pronounced the same), at least one of the LOT vowel mergers (the LOTPALM merger is completed among virtually all Americans and the LOTTHOUGHT merger among nearly half, while both are completed among virtually all Canadians), and yod-dropping (with new pronounced /nu/, not /nju/). The last item is more advanced in American English than Canadian English.

See also

Related Research Articles

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, American English is the most influential form of English worldwide.

General American English or General American is the umbrella accent of American English spoken by a majority of Americans and widely perceived, among Americans, as lacking any distinctly regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics. In reality, it encompasses a continuum of accents rather than a single unified accent. Americans with high education, or from the North Midland, Western New England, and Western regions of the country, are the most likely to be perceived as having General American accents. The precise definition and usefulness of the term General American continue to be debated, and the scholars who use it today admittedly do so as a convenient basis for comparison rather than for exactness. Other scholars prefer the term Standard American English.

The phonology of the open back vowels of the English language has undergone changes both overall and with regional variations, through Old and Middle English to the present. The sounds heard in modern English were significantly influenced by the Great Vowel Shift, as well as more recent developments such as the cot–caught merger.

Southern American English or Southern U.S. English is a regional dialect or collection of dialects of American English spoken throughout the Southern United States, though increasingly in more rural areas and primarily by White Southerners. In terms of accent, its strongest forms include southern varieties of Appalachian English and certain varieties of Texan English. Popularly known in the United States as a Southern accent or simply Southern, Southern American English now comprises the largest American regional accent group by number of speakers. Formal, much more recent terms within American linguistics include Southern White Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English.

A Boston accent is a local accent of Eastern New England English native specifically to the city of Boston and its suburbs. Northeastern New England English is classified as traditionally including New Hampshire, Maine, and all of eastern Massachusetts, though some uniquely local vocabulary appears only around Boston. Some traditional Boston accent characteristics may be retreating, particularly among younger residents, but Linguist William Labov claims that, in the twenty-first century, the accent remains relatively stable, though subsequent research suggests it is increasingly becoming limited to the historically Irish-American neighborhood of South Boston.

A Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese, commonly refers to an accent that originates among blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. It is a sub-variety of Mid-Atlantic American English, as is nearby Philadelphia English.

Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the nineteenth century, is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts. Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern halves of Vermont and Connecticut for those born as late as the early twentieth century. Studies vary as to whether the unique dialect of Rhode Island technically falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.

In English, many vowel shifts affect only vowels followed by in rhotic dialects, or vowels that were historically followed by that has been elided in non-rhotic dialects. Most of them involve the merging of vowel distinctions and so fewer vowel phonemes occur before than in other positions of a word.

North American English regional phonology is the study of variations in the pronunciation of spoken North American English —what are commonly known simply as "regional accents". Though studies of regional dialects can be based on multiple characteristics, often including characteristics that are phonemic, phonetic, lexical (vocabulary-based), and syntactic (grammar-based), this article focuses only on the former two items. North American English includes American English, which has several highly developed and distinct regional varieties, along with the closely related Canadian English, which is more homogeneous geographically. American English and Canadian English have more in common with each other than with varieties of English outside North America.

The cotcaught merger or LOT–THOUGHT merger, formally known in linguistics as the low back merger, is a sound change present in some dialects of English where speakers do not distinguish the vowel sounds in "cot" and "caught". "Cot" and "caught" is an example of a minimal pair that is lost as a result of this sound change. The English phonemes involved in the cot-caught merger, the low back vowels, are typically represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet as and, respectively. The merger is typical of most Canadian and Scottish English dialects as well as many Irish and American English dialects.

New England English collectively refers to the various distinct dialects and varieties of American English originating in the New England area. Most of eastern and central New England once spoke the "Yankee dialect", and many of those accent features still remain in eastern New England, such as "R-dropping". Accordingly, one linguistic division of New England is into Eastern versus Western New England English, as defined in the 1939 Linguistic Atlas of New England and the 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE). The ANAE further argues for a division between Northern versus Southern New England English, especially on the basis of the cot–caught merger and fronting. The ANAE also categorizes the strongest differentiated New England accents into four combinations of the above dichotomies, simply defined as follows:

Atlantic Canadian English Dialects of Canadian English

Atlantic Canadian English is a class of Canadian English dialects spoken in the Atlantic provinces of Canada and notably distinct from Standard Canadian English. It is composed of Maritime English and Newfoundland English. It is mostly influenced by British and Irish English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and some Acadian French. Atlantic Canada is the easternmost region of Canada, comprising four provinces located on the Atlantic coast – the three Maritime provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. The population of the Atlantic Provinces in 2016 was about 2,300,000 on a land area of approximately half a million square kilometres, with Nova Scotia being the most populous province, and its capital, Halifax, the most populous city. Regions such as Miramichi and Cape Breton have a wide variety of phrases and words not spoken outside of their respected regions.

Western American English Dialect of American English

Western American English is a variety of American English that largely unites the entire Western United States as a single dialect region, including the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. It also generally encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, some of whose speakers are classified additionally under Pacific Northwest English.

Midland American English Variety of English spoken in the United States

Midland American English is a regional dialect or super-dialect of American English, geographically lying between the traditionally-defined Northern and Southern United States. The boundaries of Midland American English are not entirely clear and are revised and reduced by linguists because of definitional changes and several Midland sub-regions undergoing rapid and diverging pronunciation shifts that have occurred since the early 20th century.

The sound system of New York City English is popularly known as a New York accent. The New York City metropolitan accent is one of the most recognizable accents of the United States, largely due to its popular stereotypes and portrayal in radio, film, and television. The accent is spoken in all five boroughs of New York City, Nassau County, and, in varying degrees, among speakers in the following: Suffolk County and Westchester and Rockland Counties in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State, as well as Hudson and Bergen Counties in northeastern New Jersey. Some of its features have diffused to many other areas; for example, the accent spoken by the working class of New Orleans, Louisiana, locally known as Yat, demonstrates major influences from the New York accent.

Rhoticity in English is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant in all contexts by speakers of certain varieties of English. The presence or absence of rhoticity is one of the most prominent distinctions by which varieties of English can be classified. In rhotic varieties, the historical English sound is preserved in all pronunciation contexts. In non-rhotic varieties, speakers no longer pronounce in postvocalic environments—that is, when it is immediately after a vowel and not followed by another vowel. For example, in isolation, a rhotic English speaker pronounces the words hard and butter as /ˈhɑːrd/ and /ˈbʌtər/, whereas a non-rhotic speaker "drops" or "deletes" the sound, pronouncing them as /ˈhɑːd/ and /ˈbʌtə/. When an r is at the end of a word but the next word begins with a vowel, as in the phrase "better apples", most non-rhotic speakers will pronounce the in that position, since it is followed by a vowel in this case.

Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by The Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect, spoken in the southeastern part of the Mid-Atlantic United States and especially the Delaware Valley, comprising the Philadelphia and Baltimore subsets of English. The dialect is found throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, some southern parts of Central Jersey, Delaware, and eastern and especially northeast Maryland.

The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change is an overview of the pronunciation patterns (accents) in all the major urbanized regional dialects of the English language spoken in the United States and Canada. It is the result of a large-scale survey by linguists William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. Speech data was collected, mainly during the 1990s, by means of telephone interviews with individuals in metropolitan areas in all regions of the U.S. and Canada. Using acoustic analysis of speech from these interviews, ANAE traces sound changes in progress in North American English, and defines boundaries between dialect regions based on the different sound changes taking place in them.

Standard Canadian English

Standard Canadian English is the largely homogeneous variety of Canadian English that is spoken particularly all across Central and Western Canada and throughout Canada among urban middle-class speakers from English-speaking families, excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. Canadian English has a mostly-uniform phonology and much less dialectal diversity than neighboring American English. In particular, Standard Canadian English is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ](listen) and an accompanying chain shift of vowel sounds, which is called the Canadian Shift. A subset of the dialect geographically at its central core, excluding British Columbia to the west and everything east of Montreal, has been called Inland Canadian English. It is further defined by both of the phenomena that are known as Canadian raising : the production of and with back starting points in the mouth and the production of with a front starting point and very little glide that is almost in the Prairie Provinces.

In the sociolinguistics of the English language, raising or short-a raising is a phenomenon by which the "short a" vowel, the TRAP/BATH vowel, is pronounced with a raising of the tongue. In most American and many Canadian English accents, raising is specifically tensing: a combination of greater raising, fronting, lengthening, and gliding that occurs only in certain words or environments. The most common context for tensing throughout North American English, regardless of dialect, is when this vowel appears before a nasal consonant.


  1. "Unified English Braille (UEB)". Braille Authority of North America (BANA). 2 November 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  2. Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms
  3. Chambers, J.K. (1998). "Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making". The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). p. xi.
  4. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006)
  5. Trudgill, Peter & Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th. London: Arnold. ISBN   0-340-80834-9 .
  6. Patti Tasko. (2004). The Canadian Press Stylebook: A Guide for Writers and Editors, 13th. Toronto: The Canadian Press. ISBN   0-920009-32-8, p. 308.
  7. M.H. Scargill. (1957). "Sources of Canadian English", The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 56.4, pp. 610-614.
  8. John Woitkowitz (2012). "Arctic Sovereignty and the Cold War: Asymmetry, Interdependence, and Ambiguity" . Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  9. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:148)
  10. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006 :146)
  11. Labov (1972), p. 19.
  12. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006 :101, 103)